EO Media Group file photo
Steelhead runs are coming in stronger than expected up the Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers, prompting fisheries managers to increase the number of hatchery-born steelhead available for anglers to retain in northeast Oregon.
The bag limit for steelhead was increased to two hatchery fish per day on the rivers beginning Saturday, Oct. 21, about two months after the limit was lowered to one fish amid reports of historically low summer steelhead returns.
Based on fish counts at Bonneville Dam, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife now expects more than 3,000 hatchery fish in the Grande Ronde Basin and nearly 2,000 in the Imnaha Basin. The increased bag limit also applies to the Snake, Wenaha and Wallowa rivers, as well as Big Sheep Creek.
“We’ve got more fish left over for fishermen than we thought we did,” said Jeff Yanke, ODFW district fish biologist in Enterprise.
According to the most recent estimates, Yanke said there are twice as many Imnaha steelhead past Lower Granite Dam compared to this time last year, and about as many Grande Ronde steelhead. However, those totals are still just half of steelhead returns from two years ago.
“It’s still a really low run,” Yanke said.
Yanke said the one-fish limit was based on preseason forecasts, though it is better to manage conservatively off the bat than it is to manage liberally and regret it later. At the time, ODFW counted 70,000 hatchery and 25,000 wild steelhead past Bonneville Dam, which was just 30 percent of the most recent 10-year average.
The increased bag limit brings Oregon into alignment with Washington and Idaho fishing regulations.
“We definitely think there are plenty of hatchery fish to harvest out there,” Yanke said.
Chronic wasting disease
Meanwhile, ODFW is also stepping up its monitoring for chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological infection in deer, elk and moose.
Though it has never been detected in Oregon, chronic wasting disease is spreading across North America and has been documented in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Alberta, Canada. The disease is caused by an abnormal protein that damages the brain of infected animals, causing them to gradually lose weight and bodily functions.
Chronic wasting disease is not treatable and always fatal. Colin Gillin, ODFW state wildlife veterinarian, said it is one of the most devastating wildlife diseases on the American landscape, and is nearly impossible to eradicate once it infects deer and elk.
“If we ever document (chronic wasting disease) in Oregon, we want to act quickly and will need the support of Oregon hunters,” Gillin said. “Early detection is our best chance to keep the disease from spreading, should it enter the state.”
ODFW has run check stations for years in Eastern Oregon, monitoring for the disease. Wildlife officials sampled for chronic wasting disease during the opening weekend of rifle deer season, and will host another two check stations Sunday, Oct. 29 and Monday, Oct. 30 for elk season — one station will be set up at Biggs Junction along Interstate 84, and another will be set up east of Prineville along Highway 26.
Hunters interested in having their animals tested can contact their local ODFW office to schedule an appointment. Chronic wasting disease has not been shown to sicken people, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise people not to eat meat from infected animals.
Hunting, fishing fees increase
Hunting and fishing license fees are due for a scheduled increase in 2018.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has adopted new fees that were previously approved by the state Legislature when it passed ODFW’s 2015-17 budget. Normally, ODFW raises fees once every six years but opted instead for a more modest increase once every two years, beginning in 2016.
Hunting and fishing licenses for 2018 will go on sale Dec. 1. An annual hunting license will increase by $1.50 to $33.50, an annual fishing license will increase by $3 to $41 and a combination license will increase by $4 to $69. Fee increases were intended to help alleviate a $32 million budget shortfall for the 2015-17 biennium.
The cost of youth licenses will remain the same, in an effort to make hunting and fishing more affordable for families, according to ODFW. Oregon’s outdoor recreation and retail industry supports more than 20,000 jobs and contributes $3 billion directly to the economy, according to figures the governor’s office.
A complete list of hunting and fishing fees can be found online at www.dfw.state.or.us.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.